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Bad Religion: When Punk Ages Like a Fine Wine

Brian Baker performing at Express Live in Columbus, Ohio with Bad Religion as their lead guitarist and back up vocalist.
Brian Baker of Bad Religion on guitar

Although this blog is relatively new, I plan on reviewing a ton of shows and bands. I hope to gain the trust of my readership, and I hope my recommendations have merit to them. If you enjoy live music, you may already have a bucket list of bands that you really want to see. However, I have been disappointed by bands on my bucket list and won over by bands on my husband’s bucket list. Occasionally I will recommend a band that I think everyone within the punk scene should see. This will be the first of these occasions.

Before meeting my husband in late 2016, I had an all too brief Bad Religion phase in 2004 with the release of The Empire Strikes First during the second Iraq war as I became more and more interested in activism. But alas, my parents were metal heads, and any consumption of punk rock had to be done covertly because they did not want to encourage any more “disruptive” behaviors or anti-authoritarian ideology from me. So Bad Religion remained just a phase for 12 years until I met (and eventually married) one of the world’s biggest Bad Religion fans.

Since meeting my husband, I have seen Bad Religion live a handful of times at three wildly different venues, and each performance, in my opinion, has been better than its previous one, which is incredibly impressive. The thing about bands that have been together for 30 to 40 plus years is one of two things happen: they become stagnant or continue to grow as they refine and redefine their craft. Luckily for my husband, I can say without bias that Bad Religion is in the latter category.

But how can I convince you, especially if you know us, that my opinion is genuinely unbiased and that Bad Religion should be on your live music bucket list? I often joke that I should have known my husband was falling in love with me when he told me that I reminded him of Greg Graffin on our second date. I rocked a Bad Religion shirt in our engagement photos, and he wore Bad Religion socks on our wedding day. Well, I have determined that there is one way to determine if a Bad Religion fan is objective or obsessive, and I have coined a name for this method: The Suffer Test!

The Suffer Test measures how objectively or subjectively a Bad Religion fan evaluates the quality of their music by asking them to name their three BEST albums to see if the fan-favorite makes the list. You see Suffer, Bad Religion’s third album, is widely hailed as one of the most influential punk albums of all time, and rightly so. It helped usher in a new era of punk where non-conformity was no longer the only central pillar of the genre. It effectively paved the way for intellectual discourse in punk music because it’s practically ingrained into every track. Suffer changed the game, and I have profound respect for anyone who says it is their favorite album. However, I don’t think one can objectively say that Suffer is Bad Religion’s best album without demonstrating some serious subjective bias—it isn’t even in the top three.

I probably just lost more than half of the Bad Religion fans reading this blog. But I am weirdly okay with that because I am not here to convince them to see Bad Religion—they already have—I am here to convince you.

The truth is that Greg Graffin is one of the greatest lyricists of all time, and to say that he wrote his opus at the tender age of 22(ish) would be an insult. Since releasing Suffer, Graffin has toured the world, completed his Ph.D., and has been exposed to a multitude of cultures and ideologies. Not to mention the growth other members of the band experienced. You can’t convince me that an album created by some of the greatest minds in punk rock before their actual brains were fully developed is somehow their best album—which leads me into why Bad Religion should be on your bucket list…

Suffer was a re-debut album for Bad Religion. It was the foundational cornerstone of Epitaph as a record label and paved the way for a new generation of punk bands. Many of the tracks from Suffer are rotated in and out for Bad Religion’s setlist because they kick ass, especially live.

And why are these songs so good live? Because all the members of Bad Religion are 10X the musicians they were in 1988. In fact, the musicians in Bad Religion are better than they were two years ago. There is a very distinct possibility that Bad Religion has just recently hit the apex of their musicality, which is why you need to see them live.

They are professionals in every sense of the word, evidence of which I witnessed Wednesday night. During one of their most popular songs, I realized that guitarist Brian Baker was experiencing technical difficulties involving his guitar. Rock ‘n’ roll is ripe with legendary tales of these scenarios totally derailing the sets of famous musicians, Jimi Hendrix being a prime example. However, Brian Baker quietly stepped behind an amplifier while the other guitarist, Mike Dimkich, seamlessly carried the melody through the transitional bridge. In a matter of seconds, he completely changed guitars before stepping back into the foreground for an emotionally charged, face-melting guitar solo.

The only reason I saw this is because I was literally as close as I could possibly be without actually being on stage. That night 99.9% of the audience had zero idea that something went wrong, and that is why they have earned the honor of being named the first Bucket List Band from Bands in the Bus. You deserve to see bands that go above and beyond to make sure that they give you the best show possible, and I can confidently say that Bad Religion won’t disappoint.

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